Friday, December 02, 2011

December in the Garden

Published in the Hoopa People News, Copyright Harvest McCampbell, 2007

December in the Garden

Our old friend Jack Frost has knocked down all but the hardiest of our summer edibles, while clean-up chores call us outside on sunny days. The December garden is full of sweet surprises. Young tender acorn squash hide under wilted leaves. Succulent carrots and onions that eluded us in summer’s raucous abundance reveal themselves as other plants fade. The greatest delight may be cool season greens, self sown where they may, offering leaves both spicy and succulent to brighten up winter plates. While some folks retire from gardening over the rainy season, many vegetables thrive right now. The garden grows at a much slower pace during our cool misty weather, but it also takes much less work. Here’s some information to get you growing!

It’s Time to Plant

From Seed: Many root vegetables do just fine with a December sowing. Raised beds or large containers are a good idea. They allow for drainage and can be a deterrent for gophers. If gophers aren’t a problem, you can choose the sunniest and best drained spot you can spare. Very minimal soil preparation is all that is required. (Care should be taken not to overwork soil in the rainy season—too much mucking around can cause compaction.) Pulling back mulch, removing any weeds or spent plants, and raking the surface to form a rough surface is all that is necessary. Carrots, turnips, scallions, and radishes of all kinds can be broadcast on to the prepared beds or containers. You can cover them with a sprinkling of finished compost if you like, or just let the next rain water the seeds into their bed.

From Starts: Look for scallions, lettuce, corn salad, colorful kales and ornamental cabbage. Lettuce starts are often available in fancy colors and leaf shapes. They can dress up your flower beds as well as your salads. Kale, and ornamental cabbage, as well as the diminutive corn salad will be equally happy in the vegetable garden or the flower bed. If you have a hankering for winter flowers look for hellebores, snapdragons, calendula, and violas of all kinds. Those with flower buds will bloom the soonest.

Other Chores

Mulch: Coarse textured mulch can be a boon to garden beds for several reasons. Bare unprotected soil is subject to erosion and compaction during our rainy winters. A course layer of mulch helps hold the soil in place, while reducing the force of the rain drops. Additionally, it makes a great winter worm habitat. Worms are the work horses of the garden. They recycle organic matter, improve soil texture and tilth, they foster nitrogen fixing bacteria, and their digestive systems reduce the presence of harmful micro-organisms. Worms breathe air and can drown in water soaked soil. A nice coarse mulch that has plenty of air spaces is just what worms need to survive our rainy seasons.

Garden Clean Up: Instead of hauling away all of last summer’s garden debris, think coarse mulch! If you are patient a good pair of garden clippers can be used to reduce stems, vines, large leaves, and twigs into pieces from two to four inches in size. Pile the material up to four inches deep on any unused beds or around perennials. (If any of your plants were diseased or harbored pests, their remains would be better off in the compost pile than on your garden beds.) You should keep mulch a few inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs, as well as the stems of perennials to reduce the possibility of fungus attacking your living plants. Other than that, all the material from last summer’s garden will work hard to protect and improve the soil for next year’s bountiful harvests.

Gardening News

Orchids, a Practical Guide to Care and Cultivation,” has arrived--hot off the press, just in time for the winter gift giving season. If you are looking for a great gift for the gardener who has everything, this might just be the ticket. Not only is it practical, the flower photos are amazing. Nearly every type of cultivated orchid is included, as well as some that are simply wild. Each entry contains the scientific name, origins, temperature range, light and feeding needs, as well as their flowering season. (By making careful choices you could have orchids in bloom all year.) You will also find a large number of full color photos, showing a selection of cultivated varieties for each genus discussed. Did I happen to mention that the flower photos are amazing? Even if you never plan to grow an orchid you will enjoy browsing through this book. If you have always wanted to grow orchids, whether just a few in a bright room--or lots in a modern green house, the practical aspects of this book will get you on your way. “Orchids, a Practical Guide to Care and Cultivation,” Michael Tibbs, Ball Publishing, ISBN 978-1-883052-59-1

Gifts for Gardeners

Amaryllis bulbs make a great gift, especially for those who can’t get out in the garden during the winter months. These large bulbs are easy to care for and produce plants up to 20 inches tall with blooms up to four inches across in about seven weeks from planting. These large flowers are impressive, and they are available in a number of colors and forms. (If Aunty likes the one you get her this year, next year you can get her one in a different color!) Check them out at: They can be ordered on-line; however, you will likely find them available out on the coast. Many nurseries offer already potted Amaryllis bulbs this time of year. Just remember to keep these beauties inside until all danger of frost has past. The foliage will begin to fade in late summer, when you should stop watering them and let them rest for at least six weeks. Store them in a cool dry place, where they won’t be subjected to frost or rodents. You can begin watering them again anytime after October and have blooms in time for next year’s holidays!

Garden ornaments, statuary, elegant bird feeders, as well as practical supplies and tools can be found at the Gardener’s Supply Company. They not only carry classy items you won’t find anywhere else, a portion of every purchase goes to support their grants and awards programs. The focus of these programs is to provide funds and awards to non-profit organizations which encourage communities to develop sustainable, ecologically sound gardening practices. Check out their web site to shop on-line You will find more information on gardening grants and awards on their “Community Page.” You can also request a catalog or more information by calling 1-888-833-1412.

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